Hyenas and wolves in the Negev Desert have reached an alliance in their quest for survival, according to a new study produced by researchers at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. This finding reinforces the notion that humans are not the only animals capable of setting aside rivalries when faced with a common threat.
Striped hyenas (Hyaena hyaena) and gray wolves (Canis lupus) in the Negev Desert in Israel are each faced with the need to find food in the desolate landscape. Both species of carnivores are capable of killing large animals, including dogs, and they rarely get along with each other. Hyenas are even known for occasionally picking fights with lions.
Oddly, researchers found striped hyenas walking in the middle of wolf packs, as they hunted within canyons in southern Israel. Researchers first noticed this alliance in tracks found in the region, a discovery that was confirmed four years later, when the behavior was first seen in the wild. Biologists are uncertain whether this is a newly-developed behavior, or if this is normal, but has never before been recorded.
"Animal behavior is often more flexible than described in textbooks. When necessary, animals can abandon their usual strategies and learn something completely new and unexpected. It's a very useful skill for people, too," Vladimir Dinets of the University of Tennessee said.
The animals may have partnered with each other to take advantage of their relative abilities. Hyenas have a superior sense of smell, compared to wolves, and are able to smell carrion from a greater distance. This also allows the animals to find garbage dumps from a greater distance than wolves could without hyenas. However, wolves are better able to take down large game, increasing possible food sources in the arid region.
Both species of animal are found in various locations around the world, but Negev is the harshest arid environment where both types of animals may be found. Striped hyenas are relatives of the more familiar spotted hyenas, native to Africa.
Discovery and investigation of the alliance between wolves and hyenas in the Negev Desert of Israel was published in the journal Zoology in the Middle East.